by Marie-Louise Jensen
When I talk to school groups about my Georgian books, I occasionally recount tales of Georgian food. It's guaranteed to liven up any group. There's something about food from different cultures and times that is an endless source of fascination for most of us.
So I talk about how gelatine for jelly was made by boiling pigs' trotters in a pan and red food colouring obtained from beetles (both still true, of course, we just don't do it ourselves in the home kitchen any more) and how pulled chicken was made - though bizarrely pulled meat has started coming back into fashion, so it's no longer as interesting.
But one of the most weird and unappealing dishes I've found to date is still the one I came across researching my first book Between Two Seas. The novel is set in Skagen, which is the isolated tip of Jutland, Denmark, and where in the 1880s they had rich seas and poor land. As a result, the Skagen dwellers' diet consisted almost entirely of fish, with some rye bread to bulk it up. And yes, they suffered from all kinds of digestive disorders as a result.
One way of ringing the changes was to eat the occasional fried seagull.
That's right. Fried Seagull.
The recipe is as follows (just in case anyone's hungry):
Pluck the bird, wash it and soak it in cold water with some herbs overnight. Then soak it in milk. Tear the skin off, wash it again and boil it in water and herbs until it's half done. Finally, drain it and fry it.
The bird was served stuffed with slices of raw potato. To quote the locals of the 19th century 'Det smagte dejligt' - it tasted delicious.
I've always rather doubted this, suspecting it's probably an extremely acquired taste. So I googled whether anyone else around the world eats seagull, and apparently the Maori people of Southern New Zealand do - fried muttonbird. According to the American food blogger who tried it, it's incredibly greasy and tastes like a tidepool. I thought as much. You can read the account here: http://cookrookery.com/?p=2449
I think the fact that fried seagull was eaten at all is probably a mark of how desperate the Skagen community sometimes was for food, especially in the winter when the sea froze over. It makes me very grateful for my local Sainsbury's.
Follow me on twitter: @jensen_ml